Michigan lawmakers pass $ 17.1 billion budget for equal student funding

Michigan lawmakers approved a landmark education spending bill on Wednesday, but not before the Senate added an additional $ 300 million.

Senate additions include scholarships for elementary reading support and incentives for districts that have year-round calendars with shorter, more frequent breaks.

The $ 17.1 billion spending plan was passed by both the House and the Senate almost unanimously. The school budget for the current year is $ 15.5 billion.

“The bipartisan school assistance bill makes historic investments in our children without raising taxes and will help every student achieve academic, mental and physical fulfillment,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I look forward to signing this law to expand the Great Start Readiness preschool program to an additional 22,000 children and connect more students with counselors, psychologists and nurses in their schools. “

The bill guarantees equal base funding – $ 8,700 per student – statewide, a goal the legislature has been working towards since 1994. This year, the state provided $ 8,111 to $ 8,529 per student. in core funding.

Districts operating on balanced schedules throughout the year will get a 3% increase in their base funding, bringing it to $ 8,961 per student. They will also be eligible for $ 75 million in one-time grants for capital improvements such as heating and air conditioning systems.

The budget “achieves one of our main priorities and goals that we have worked for for decades – elimination between the most funded and the least funded districts,” said Senate Speaker Jim Stamas.

“Is there more work to do? Yes. Are there more investments than people are asking for? Yes, ”said the Midland Republican. “We can and will continue to examine and work on these ideas.”

Kalamazoo Democrat Sean McCann said he was proud to vote yes on the Senate-amended budget.

“While the record K-12 budget funding was a step in the right direction, we need to ensure that this record funding is sustained,” he said.

Heads of school are encouraged.

“As we move forward from here without a funding gap, we really hope that lawmakers come together to invest future money in student aid as needed,” said Bob Kefgen, director of relations governments of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

“To call this a moment of transformation is an understatement,” Mark Greathead, superintendent of the Woodhaven-Brownstown, Bridge Michigan school district, said earlier this week of the looming school budget.

The student district of 5,500 in southern Wayne County will see its per-student funding increase from $ 8,111 to $ 8,700, an increase of $ 3.3 million. Closing the spending gap between the best-funded and the least-funded districts is “a big step towards funding stability” for public schools, Greathead said.

The additional state funding will allow the district to hire additional support staff to work with struggling students in elementary, middle and high schools.

With the additional funding comes additional responsibility, Greathead acknowledged. For years, Michigan principals have complained about poor and uneven funding and have linked that funding to poor results on standardized state testing.

Now that schools have more money, “school districts have to do more than just hope the scores go up,” he said. “We need to make sure that we have the programs, supports and people in place to make a difference. “

Some Michigan principals have argued that equality does not mean fairness.

“If you are a student from a privileged background living in a household with parents who have graduated from college, you probably won’t need the same level of support that a student from a disadvantaged background would need to. go to the same place. Kefgen said.

This is why there has been a push in Michigan for a weighted funding formula that would provide additional funds to educate students with disabilities, those learning English and others who need more support. The state has made changes in this direction in recent years with increased funding for students who are at risk of having difficulty in school. At risk is defined in several ways. It includes students from low-income homes, chronically absent students, students of abuse or neglect, and students with a family history of academic failure.

More equal funding will not bridge the yawning local funding gap. Money raised through local taxes can represent a significant portion of a district’s budget – 30% or more – and can be used for things like maintaining school buildings. But these funds are often out of reach in low-income communities because property values ​​are low and there is less to tax. The result is that students in the poorest areas and in both urban and rural areas often attend classes in dilapidated buildings.

While federal anti-poverty programs help, these dollars come with strings attached and cannot be used for school buildings.

The Senate also added a $ 155 million reading program. It offers up to $ 1,000 in parent scholarships that parents can use for in-person or virtual tutoring and educational programs to help children in the early grades of elementary school improve their reading. The program will be administered by Grand Valley State University, which plans to announce eligibility requirements in August.

The budget also increases spending on the Grand Départ program by 40%. The $ 168.5 million infusion supports preschool education for 4-year-olds deemed at risk of school failure.

School districts will also be able to hire more psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses. Lawmakers have allocated $ 240 million in new money.

Editors Koby Levin and Lori Higgins contributed.